Friday, October 14, 2016

Difficult Old Testament Passages : Judges 19:1-21:25 The Levite and His Concubine

The moral condition of Israel has gone down to the same level of the moral depravity  the Canaanites. Compare Joshua  24:30 with Judges  2:10. Apostasy from God and  rejection of the truth is  always followed by moral corruption.[1]  The time is similar to that  of  the  days of  Noah and Lot. In fact, Jesus  makes reference  to this in Lk. 17:28-30  and draws a parallel  between these days  and  the times  which are to precede the coming of the Son of Man.  Evidences  of  such moral corruption and violence exist today in abundance.

19:1  In those days when there was no king in Israel…  This section relates one of the most shocking episodes of Israel's history. It  is truly tragic.  It all begins  with a wrong relationship  between a Levite  and his  concubine. [2]

19:2 The concubine leaves  her husband.  Their  relationship enters into its inevitable difficulties. No woman  plays the second fiddle well, and so she  becomes unfaithful and leaves him and moves back to her father's house in Bethlehem.

19:3 After four months, the Levite decides that he wants her back. They  appeared to reconcile  and her father was happy to  receive  him. But, it’s time to  get back.  

19:4-10 The girl's father really wanted him to stay  and tried to delay their departure.  This happened again and again until  the Levite  finally said, "I'm leaving." They leave and  end up at  Jebus  (Jerusalem), which,  at this time was not yet in Israelite hand.

19:11-14  Unwilling to stay among the foreigners, the Levite felt it would be safer  to be among the people of Israel. He was very  wrong. He landed up in  Gibeah (the birthplace of Saul)  belonging to the tribe of Benjamin.

19:15  The people of Gibeah showed no  customary hospitality - this is the first indication that this city  is  evil.

19:16-21 An old man takes them in. This old man was not a Benjamite, but  he was living in Gibeah.   He inquired about their situation. The Levite explained that even though they had enough provisions, no one had offered them a place to stay. Knowing that this was not a safe city, the old man said, "Don't spend the night in the town square, come to my house."

19:22-25 The sin of the  men of Gibeah:  The  men of Gibeah  are a morally perverse bunch.  They demanded that the old man give them the Levite for their sexual satisfaction.   With a similar response  to  Lot  in Genesis 19, the old man offers them the women from the household, rather than the men.  Gibeah has become the new Sodom.     All this is written as a matter of fact and without any  attempt to  make it sound less harsh. Everything written here  is meant  to shock us.

19:26-30 The result of this was one of the worst and shocking  things recorded in all of Scripture - the gang rape of a woman, resulting in her death. The Levite calls for justice from the tribes of Israel by cutting  her up into 12 parts, sending a shockwave throughout Israel : “Such a thing has never happened…”.

20:1-7 400,000 Israelites  gather at Mizpah,  in outrage  to punish  the people of Gibeah  for this  deed  (20:8-11)

20:12-14 Investigating the crime :  Instead of agreeing that the crime was awful and that the men should be killed, the Benjamites defended the men, and armed themselves to fight against the rest of Israel. They  would rather  defend Gibeah than practise justice.  Perversity is pervasive[3].  

20:15-17 Benjamin  was a powerful opponent. 26 000 Benjamites came to the aid of the 700 Benjamite warriors  in Gibeah.   You would think that this is going to be a short battle. But  not so. Benjamin was  a  very powerful  and skilled warrior tribe.

20:18-28 :  Why did  God not give the Benjamites  immediately into the hands of Israel?  The most likely answer is that the rest  of  Israel itself was not guiltless. They needed learn  humility.

20:29-48: Victory over Benjamin.   Almost every one of Benjamin's warriors was wiped out. Only 600  men survived.

21:1 ..."No one of us shall give his daughter to Benjamin in marriage."  Now that most of Benjamin’s tribe  was  dead,  it looked like the entire tribe might become extinct.

21:4- 24   Mercy prevails:  Wives  are found for the remnant of  Benjamin.  400  virgins were found from Jabesh Gilead , and more  were found  by  kidnapping  from  among the daughters of Shiloh.

21:25  “In those days  there was no king in Israel. Everyone  did  what was right  in his own eyes”.   This is a good summary of the entire book. When God is only given lip service, when religious service  replaces  a vital relationship with God, and when wickedness is allowed to prevail, this is the situation we find ourselves in.  

Does this not have a contemporary ring about it ?


  • The Bible does not  attempt to  avoid  sin  or gloss over the great shortcomings of God’s people in history. This  report is meant to shock us.
  • The overall intention is to depict the depravity of  God’s people at this time,  and this is an extreme example. This is the point of 19:29,30.  The  depth of this depravity is also mentioned by Hosea  in 9:9, 10:9. The peak  of  this sexual perversity  is manifested  supremely in the sin  of homosexuality.
  •  Everyone and everything in these chapters  displays  this sinful twistedness, whether it is the concubine  who was unfaithful (19:2)  or the Levite who practises self preservation (19:25),  the  slaughter of  the entire  tribe of Benjamin  (20:1-48) ; the slaughter  of the town  of Jabesh Gilead  who did not come up to the LORD at Mizpah (21:8-12)  and the kidnapping  of the girls at  Shiloh (21:19-24).
  •  The writer  of the Judges   brief and matter of fact summary is contained in  19:1 and 21: 25. The root of  it all is each man  doing whatever  was right in his own eyes.  Each man here   refers to those that were part of the OT covenant church. This is not the world out there. It is the church of the OT  which displays such unspeakable wickedness.  Much of the  modern church  has become the greatest exporter and promoter of sin. 
  •  Grand lesson: Woe to those that  trivialize God and do not take Him seriously. They shall be handed over. Romans 1:18 – 32  shows us  what happens  when God hands  a people over. The visible result of  that is sexual promiscuity, of which homosexuality  is  the peak!

[1] Rom. 1:26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32
[2] A concubine was a lawful wife who was guaranteed only food, clothing, and marital privileges (Ex. 21:7-11; Dt. 21:10-14). Any children she bore would be considered legitimate; but because of her second-class status, they wouldn't necessarily share in the family inheritance (Gen.25:1-6). If a man's wife was barren, he sometimes took a concubine so he could establish a family. Though the law controlled  such a relationship,   it was never  a part of God’s original design.  Several of the patriarchs had children with concubines including Abraham with Hagar (Gen. 16); Jacob with Bilhah and Zilpah (Gen. 30:4-13) Several other OT men had concubines, including Gideon, Saul, David, and Solomon. It should be noted however that although a concubine was, in a sense, a legal mistress, we never see such a family life blessed by God!
[3] D.R. Davies :  Christian  Focus Publications ; Judges , p.215

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

DIFFICULT PASSAGES IN THE OLD TESTAMENT - JOSHUA 7 : "Why did Achan's Family have to die for his sin ?"

There is always somebody in the church who does not think  that God’s commands are  serious.  There are always people in the church who think that they can sin, and  they think  that this is their private problem  - and  not the church’s problem. In this study we want  to  do some serious reflection    upon the  effects  of our  sin upon others. We will learn that  that our private sins always have public effects. It is true  that some  of our sins will   have less visible impact  than others  - but they  will always  have  an impact to a greater or lesser degree.


Chapter  7:1  starts on a solemn and disturbing note.  “Achan took some of the devoted things. And the Lord’s anger burned  against the people of Israel“ .  This is the central verse  and concern of this chapter. There is  an individual  sin … and there is God’s wrath on a nation .

What happened? The story is described in terms of   (i) A   Cause  (ii) A Cure  and  (iii) A  Consequence

(i)  THE CAUSE :  (7:1-9)
One of the men  of Israel, Achan, did not take  God’s commandments  seriously. He disobeyed  the explicit  order  of  6:17 – 19 . The order could not have been clearer. But, there  is always someone  who  thinks that “no!”  means,  “try your luck”.
Well, what happened?  As Israel  was poised to take the next city  in the promised land,  Ai,  they  not only encountered stiff resistance, not only  were thirty six of their men  killed  in the battle  for that town, but they were decisively beaten, “and their hearts  melted  and became  as water“ (7:5).  Joshua’s  reaction  in  7: 6 – 9  shows that he  is utterly grieved and perplexed.   You and I  have already been given a ‘sneak preview’  in  7:1 as to  why this happened.  But   Joshua  has, as yet, no clue as  to what had caused this setback.  As far as he was concerned nothing could go wrong right now. The God of Israel had   assured them of His presence [see Chapter 1: 3,5,6,9,11,13,15].  He had already caused the waters of the  Jordan to dry up, so that they could walk into the promised land on dry foot.  God  had already  given  Jericho into their hands. But notice too,  that  the gift of the land is connected to  their obedience- see 1:7b - 8,17.
So, this  defeat  at Ai  is devastating!  What on earth is God doing?  Can you appreciate  Joshua’s despair in v.7? Joshua feels humiliated and mocked  (7:9“What will the Canaanites think of us?  What will the Canaanites think of  Israel’s God?“ The glory of God is at stake. Will God now  be humiliated  before  the Amorites?

(ii) THE CURE:  7: 10-23

Joshua’s desperate prayer  is heard by God (7: 10 -13). Mourning over the fact  will not do. “Get up!”  The problem is not with  God. It  is within Israel!  “Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant… they  have taken some of the devoted things  (referring to   6:18,19)!   The  reason is given   why   they cannot stand against  their enemies.  God says, “get rid of that problem among you  by destroying  it.”  
God does not  give Joshua the name(s)  of  the offender(s).  He simply says: “Assemble  the people. Then you take them one by one, and you question them. You’ll soon  find the guilty party”.  It doesn’t take long before the  matter is in the open (7:20).
The anatomy  and progression  of  Achan’s sin  is  powerfully  displayed in  7:20-21 : I saw – I coveted- I took”   ( cf.  James 1:14,15

[Note: seeing is no sin ; but coveting  and taking  are both forbidden in the 10 commandments]

(iii)     THE CONSEQUENCE: 7: 23 -26

Achan  was judged  guilty, and in consequence  his family and all his belongings were   destroyed.  This is a very  graphic illustration and  severe application   of Romans  6:23 :  “The wages of sin  is death”
This judgement no doubt  comes as a great shock to a  21st century reader of the Bible. Why did Achan’s family have to die  with him?  It doesn’t sit easy, does it? But that is precisely what sine does. It produces pain, it produces  grief because it produces death.  
Perhaps  your understanding  grows somewhat more   when you understand  what the selfish sin of Achan  had accomplished:  36 wives had perhaps lost their husbands, and many children would have  lost  their fathers  at the battle of Ai.  But even more significantly, the honour and the Name  of God  were  assaulted by a man  who thought that God  did not mean what  He said.   Private sins  have consequences!
The penalty is so severe because the sin is so serious!  

The problem is that we  have such a   poor understanding of  the nature of sin  and what it does to God and man. We think that it is a little thing  to sin against  God’s explicit commands! But it is no little thing  to sin against God. Perhaps  you will now appreciate  Jesus’  strong words  in Matthew  5:29ff  to  “ If your right eye causes you to sin,  tear it out… if your right hand causes you to sin , cut it off… it is better for you to lose one of your members  than that your whole body  go into hell.”  

We cannot treat  cancer  with plasters or vitamin pills  - it requires  radical surgery.  Sin is a spiritual cancer. It needs radical treatment.  


The primary lesson  from this text is that  private sin has  public consequences. Think  through some biblical  examples and then through some everyday examples:

  • In Joshua :  
  • The effects of  Achan’s private sin   on  Israel :  (i) Loss of life (ii) Loss of blessing (iii) Loss of  courage  (iv) Loss of protection

  •  In the rest of Scripture  

(i) Adam’s ‘private sin’   caused  the whole human race to  inherit the ‘sin virus’  and be cut off from God.   

(ii) David’s ‘private‘ sin  with Batsheba (2 Samuel 11)   caused the death of  her husband Uriah, and the death of the baby born  to  him and Batsheba. It also  ultimately cost him the kingdom.  

(iii) David’s  “private vanity”  in  2 Samuel 24, where he  calls for a headcount of all the fighting men, causes the Lord to burn with anger. It caused the death of 70 000 people  from Dan to Beersheba.

(iv)  King Herod’s  private fears about the announcement  of a “king  to be born in Israel “ causes a baby boy genocide  (Matt. 2:16).  Also, his  loose private words  and promises  cause  the death of John the Baptist  (Matt. 14: 1-12)

(v)  The private  selfishness and man-centeredness of the Corinthian church causes great divisions in the church.   

(vi)  Supremely, your, mine    and everyone else’s  ‘private sin‘  took Christ to the cross.  The holy, sinless Son of God  and Son of man had to  be destroyed by death. He had  to  die  in our place, so that our  sin could be forgiven.


(i)        A husband cheats on his wife. Wife, children, family, friends suffer. If he is a church member, the church also suffers.

(ii)       The private  “sex life” of people  who pass on AIDS has  horrifying upon our country  (25-30 % infected?) Many  children born in such relationships  are affected. families, employers,  health care systems  and economies  are affected.

Your sin is no private affair. 
Your sin does not happen in isolation, just as little  as cancer or Aids  manifests itself in isolation  to  the rest of the body. The nature of cancer,  AIDS  or flu for that matter is that it affects the whole body.  It eventually kills the body.  And the church is a body. And Israel is a body. 
Achan is part of Israel  and therefore Achan’s sin is her problem.  
The same is true  for sin in the church. Your  sin  becomes  the church’s problem. The Holy Spirit  is grieved.  It hurts everyone to varying degrees.  The church  cannot advance with sin in her midst. Subsequent  Church discipline is   always painful. Sometimes people have to be cut off.  It always leaves people grieving.   
Think about that! 

Monday, September 12, 2016

1 Timothy 4:6- 16: “Remaining Faithful To The End”

After  last week’s   Scripture reading and exposition of  1 Timothy  4:1-6, entitled “Some will depart from the  Faith“, you might have  wanted to ask, like the disciples in response to Jesus  statement at the last supper,  “One of you will betray me”,   …  “Is it I Lord?” (Mk.  14:18-19). 
Others might have asked, "Can I remain  faithful to  God until the end?" 
"How do I know that I will remain faithful to the end?" 
Good question, and I am so thankful that the apostle  is reading  Timothy’s mind  and  our anxious thoughts here,  and therefore  his counsel to us this morning is very helpful and practical.

To begin with then, please take note  of the background against which Paul says this to Timothy, the young pastor at Ephesus. He says this against the background of spiritual deceit and  apostasy and false teaching which he calls in  v.7  irreverent, silly myths, or more literally,   ‘profane and   old wives myths’.    
Our modern society   is no different. Just looking at a magazine shelf at a bookshop   leaves us under no illusions what  our  people   preoccupy themselves with in terms of  finding ultimate satisfaction. And so there  is a  true market place  for all sorts of  therapies and techniques from Astrology to Zen Buddhism to relieve stressed  souls -  all of course apart  from   the prescriptions  of  our God and Creator. 
Jesus  never said,   do yoga  or transcendental meditation,  and de-stress yourself  as you  surround yourself with positive energy fields by  doing Feng Shui on your house and  buy  crystals, in order to be delivered  from whatever worries and ails you.  
He never said,  “Go to an African witchdoctor or  his  counterpart in  many a charismatic  church, the  so called “man of God” who  magically removes all your love problems and  financial burdens.  
Jesus said : “Come to me all  who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn  from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest  for your souls.” (Matt. 11:28,29)

Some  in Ephesus apparently forbade people to marry  and others focused on  what to eat and what not to eat, when the basic simple truth is that  EVERYTHING God created is GOOD, and when   we give  thanks for and pray over our food   then it is even more  good, because God is  honoured by our eating and drinking.

Others appear  to be absorbed with their bodies. This too is a  phenomenon  of our modern  culture. There is, of course, nothing wrong with exercise. It has “some value“, says Paul. But surely the excessive attention  and endless  energy  given to our  outer  appearances   impresses others  for a short while  - but what more does it do?  How does that keep us faithful to the end and for eternity?

If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

I am learning  never to  take practical  godliness for granted  in Christian people. Paul did not! In writing to Timothy, Paul  felt it necessary to remind him  to  “put these things before the brothers”.  We are to train others, but in order  to train others, the trainer himself   must be subject to the  rigors  of  training. As a pastor in a difficult  environment  at Ephesus  is important  that  He keeps himself  in  spiritual shape, if he is going to be faithful  to the end…. For many have made shipwreck of their faith. The training associated with  godliness  is  far more valuable  than  physical training.

The ground  and substance  for training in godliness is to be  in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine.
Negatively,  he is to avoid  getting  caught up in irreverent, silly myths.  A good servant of Christ is  not called to chase rabbits . He is to be a single minded man.
Positively speaking  He is to train (Gr. gumnazō)   himself in godliness.  Let us focus on this  for a moment  and let  this  counsel encourage us  to  see how we may persevere to the end  without any fear that ‘we may lose it’ .

Principles for training in godliness  :
Commitment:  Train yourselfNo pain – no gain”.  No one  makes it to the level of Olympics without  paying the price of daily rigorous training. Similarly,  godliness  does not come without  paying the price of daily spiritual training which God has designed for our growth in godliness. 

There is a price to godliness. It doesn’t come cheaply, nor does it come  easily. You need to plan for it, and more importantly  you need   to actually do it.  The Greek word  “train”  from which  we get our  English word  “gymnastics“   implies hard work and perseverance with painstaking , diligent effort, therefore  implying commitment.

Timothy was personally responsible for his  growth and progress in godliness. It is true that all we  do for God  is by grace, and yet  it is also true  that grace does not come if we do not  work out  our salvation  at the same time (Phil. 2:12,13). 
Somebody put it like this: “It takes two to grow a potato: God and the farmer !”  God is first.  
The farmer second. God uses farmers to  produce potatoes. That is the way in which God works.  The same is true  for the work of the church. 
God is first. We are second. God uses  His people   to do the work  of  evangelism  and discipleship. And so, potatoes do not grow without  farmers  and churches do not grow without evangelism and discipleship.  

But  our text is not speaking primarily here about evangelism and discipleship. It speaks about something far more basic. It speaks of   a basic, underlying  discipline called  godliness, and many of us struggle more with this  than we  realize. We are essentially very focused  on our daily  existence, and are  disciplined  in keeping our  business, studies, home, but not disciplined at all  when it comes to training  in godliness .  That is why there is such a  tendency to look for shortcuts.  People  always look  for  a miraculous infusion of godliness.  The truth is that God does work in a mysterious way to make us  godly, but He does not  do this apart from  calling us  to  exercise  the personal responsibility to train ourselves in godliness.

We all need training in this area. Timothy needed it.  Paul reminded  Timothy  in 2 Tim  1:7 that “God did not give us a  spirit of timidity,  but a spirit of power, of love and  of self discipline“. Timothy  needed to grow  out of his natural timidity. He needed to grow in these three areas mentioned. He need to learn  to be   bolder, and to understand the  nature of biblical love better (1 Cor.  13:4-7) and to   be  more self- disciplined. 

Jerry Bridges reminds us  that one meets many talented and capable Christians, but one meets fewer godly Christians. The emphasis in our  age is on serving  God  and accomplishing things for God. As good  and necessary as that may be, it is not the first thing  we need to do.  The first thing that we need is to grow in godliness.  
Here’s an important thing to understand.  In God’s economy being is before doing!  Many Christians  invert this, and  this leads them to self- absorption and idolatry. 
Many   think  and say to themselves,  “I do, therefore I am a Christian!”  The truth is the other way around: ”I am a Christian, therefore I do.. .”   There  is  a  wide  gulf between the two. The first is called ‘dead works’ and the  other is called  ‘ a faith that pleases God ‘  (Hebrews 11). The one leads to  duty-ism, and the other leads to joy. It is for joy that we have been redeemed by Christ.   

And now you will see why  Paul says  what he does in  vv. 9-10: The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially of those who believe. 
The Christian  life, the godly life, must be lived from the centre. Who is at the centre? Jesus Christ ! So,  the  training that you need to be engaged in is to constantly  focus  sharply on the Lord Jesus Christ and on His attributes. What   is it that Timothy and we need in this regard? Ah,  says Paul, "don’t be intimidated by  the thought of your youthfulness (don’t look at the outward), but  focus on   portraying  and being like Jesusset the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." That is godly behaviour. And it takes training, because it is not natural for us to think and act like that.

What else   must Timothy do  to increase  personal godliness?  Paul says: “Timothy, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching”. Expose  your people   to the reading, preaching  and  teaching of God’s Word in order that they may be trained in godliness!  That is the work of the pastor. That is Timothy’s  work.   
But we can also turn it  around.  How can I  as a church member grow in godliness? By regularly  sitting under the  Word of God  brought  by   my  God appointed pastor.  My advice is that you need to take every opportunity to bring yourself under the Word of God. Every Christian should be  a thorough student of the Bible. The Hebrews  were rebuked,   since they  should have been able to teach others, they still needed to be taught  in the elementary truths of God’s word  (Hebr. 5:11-14). 

If we are to train ourselves  in godliness  we must give  Bible study  priority in our lives . The results of this   will be evident. 
Proverbs 2:1-5 tells us :  1  My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, 2 turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, 3 and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, 4 and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, 5 then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.

In conclusion Paul says: Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Practise… progress… persist … TRAIN. 
What is the outcome? “By so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.“  By doing this you will make it to the end !


You  will always find  time  to do what  is important to you.
How important is the practice of godliness to you? Is it important enough to take priority over your own routines  and your excessive desire  for  recreation and scores of other activities ?  

Unfortunately  many professing Christians  are  busy with many things, but not  busy  with cultivating  those  Christian graces  which are essential to  being Christ-like and  therefore godly. For this reason many  Christians seem to  display   little fruit and power in their lives. Our best time and energy should be  invested in  the pursuit  of training ourselves for the purpose of godliness- to be more like  Jesus. Paul says that this practice   holds promise for both the present life and  the life to come. This practice  alone will ensure that we remain faithful to the end.

Amen !  

Sunday, September 4, 2016

1 Timothy 4:1-5 : “Some will depart from the faith”

Last time,  when  considering  I Timothy 3:14-16  we saw two things :
(i)    the true  nature  of   the church,  the household of God, … the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. 
(ii) the  true  nature  of the  great Saviour  of  the church, …manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.

This  is  indeed  the way  God sees the church, and it is wonderful  to behold. God sees us  as  His household, His family  through His beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ who became a  man  for our sake, who lived and died  for the sake of His  sheep, His people. After  He had  done the work that the Father gave Him to do, He ascended to heaven  and sat down at the right hand of  His  Father in glory, from where He shall come again to judge the living and the dead.   It is  important that we should keep this picture always in mind, for as  we look at  the shocking  state of our world and the state of the church in the world   today, we need to always remember that  the  last page  has not been written. Thank God that He has given us insight  concerning  what  must happen and what will be  in future. This  is what constitutes our Christian  hope.  

This is   important to know  as we  now  come to the fourth chapter  in which Paul reminds Timothy, pastor of the church in Ephesus:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:1-5 ESV)

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith…”. I became a Christian in June 1978. I shall never forget  how God changed my life forever  on a Thursday evening. On that same evening,  my roommate Allen,  from  room 520, Leo Marquard Hall,  confessed  that he had become a Christian.  I remember reading the Bible together, and going to St James Church, Kenilworth together for the next 6 months. Then,  after the Summer holidays,   returning to UCT in  the January of 1979,  Allen told me that he  no longer considered himself a Christian. And that was that! It came as a great  shock to me, and I struggled to understand that, until I saw  that this had also happened in the Bible.  Paul makes mention of this in  1 Tim.1: 19, 20 ; 2 Tim. 4: 10,14 . He mentions   people who had abandoned the gospel : Hymenaeus, Alexander, Demas… .

Over the years  I have sadly seen  a number of people   from our midst  departing from the faith, some who had been very close to me at one time.  And it always starts  this way:  they   were  “devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared,” and  following their capture  by such  deceitful spirits, it did not take long before   they abandoned  the faith altogether. 

So what do we make of this? I am thankful that the  Scriptures speak into  this confusing  and perplexing and painful situation.   Such situations also   help us  not to  have idealistic expectations of the church as she   battles  her way through this sinful world. Jesus apostolic team included  a Judas. If you expect life in the local church to be perfect, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. And so Paul, after describing the local church as the  household of God, the church of the Living God, the pillar and  buttress  of the truth,  wants us to understand  that the  local church on earth,  however faithful  she aims to be,  will always face challenges. There will always be apostasy. 

So,  as we follow the logic of these 5 verses  we learn at least three things :

V. 1  That there is such a thing as apostasy from the gospel.
Vv. 2 & 3   That there are false teachers  and false teachings  to be resisted
Vv. 4 &5   That there is  an  antidote for false teaching


The Apostle Paul is saying to us , “don't be surprised when that happens. The  Holy  Spirit has expressly said  that such things  would happen!   Where did the Holy Spirit say this? The Holy Spirit said it  through Jesus  in passages such as  Matthew 24: 3-12. Paul also warned the Ephesian church  concerning this in Acts 20:28-31,  when the church was first founded.    He also warned the Colossians  in 2:16-23. Peter and Jude  warn us also in their letters. 

But over and above that, I know what you are thinking, and it may trouble  you.  Does this mean that true believers can  lose their salvation?  No, that is not what Paul is saying here.  Paul is speaking about  a people  who make an outward profession of faith, but  who  do not  last and fall away. The parable of the sower and  the seed  helps us  to understand  this   (Matt. 13: 1-23). In that  same teaching Jesus  explains that  weeds and wheat  grow together in this  world (Matt. 13:24-30). 

The point is that if you are not deeply rooted in  the grace of our Lord Jesus  Christ, and if you do not bear fruit you will not last as a true Christian. You will not be inclined to listen to Jesus. You will be inclined to listen to teachings of demons and deceitful spirits who will lead you away from the gospel.  And so  I John 2:19 puts it into  a nutshell :  “They went out from us, but they were not  of us; for if they had been of us, they would have  continued  with us; but they went out  that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

So, Paul is not suggesting that these have lost their salvation. The fact is that they  never had it, and  the way in which it is seen is  that they did not continue to cling to Christ, the Rock and Foundation of  our salvation,  our true and final authority. They  were listening to “deceitful spirits and  teachings of demons… to the insincerity of liars ...”.

When  do you really expose yourself  for what you are?  How  do you  move from being someone that professes faith in Jesus  to  becoming an apostate?  Here is the answer. By listening to false teaching! And notice who is behind the work of that false teaching: deceitful spirits and  teachings  of demons. It is the work of  Satan himself.  I remind  you that by listening  to him, Eve was deceived. This is happening all the time, and it is appalling  to see how much this is happening  in our time.  I have often warned you, and I will do it now again. Do not  hang your hearts unconditionally  on to fallible  people, but  hang on to the infallible Jesus!


False teaching :  The  fact that Paul can speak of false teaching  indicates that  there is such a thing as right teaching. In a day and age when many do not believe that there is  such a thing as absolute truth,  we are saying resolutely,  No! There is absolute  truth … the truth as it is in Jesus (Eph.4:21). Do not  let post modernistic thinking, which is very hip and very modern and very chic  at this time  confuse you. There is  absolute truth. Jesus in His high priestly  prayer said to the Father: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17 ). Psalm 119:160 says : “The sum of your Word is truth…”.  Jesus  said : “I am the Way ,  and the Truth and the Life. No one come to  the Father except through me.…”  The Bible is rooted in certainty. The Bible  does not agree with  postmodern thinking.
False teachers : How do we discern them?  Paul gives us  an  insight here.  He points us to their character and their teaching. Words are an extension of one’s character.   So what do we learn from their words,  and what do these words point to?
Here is what they teach in v.3 : they “… forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.”

They are making demands which are in conflict with the word of God. God has pronounced marriage to be good (Gen. 2), but these people turn God’s Word on its head and they say that  if you really want to be spiritual, you will abstain from marriage.  And they do the same with food. They tell you what you may not eat, but the truth is that there is no unclean food. Whatever is received with a thankful and prayerful heart is clean (see Acts 10:15 – note, make a distinction between  legalism and  not liking the taste of something).   There was, of course  a host of  man- made ideas behind this. There was  the  influence of  Greek Gnostic teaching, which   believed that matter was evil and only the spirit was good.  They taught  that by abstaining from worldly pleasures such as food and sex these  you could escape into the higher world of the spirit. That is  not God’s view.  

It may also be   the  way that Judaism had developed with all its additional  rabbinical teachings that they had added  in addition  to Scripture. Some supposedly converted Christian Jews were arguing that the Old Testament ceremonial laws  (food laws)  were still binding. The New Testament had made it clear that all foods were now clean to Christians (Mark 7:19; Acts 10)  

These false teachers  were  putting  their own  opinions  above that of  Christ  and His Word.  Jesus said  that marriage is  good and  food is good .   When you begin to forbid what God allows, soon you will begin to allow what God forbids.  The new  sexual revolution and the LGBT  issue are an illustration of this. And false teaching will  lead  you in one of those two directions, every time. It will be  either be narrower than the word of God, or it will be broader than the word of God.    In the final analysis these false teachers set themselves up in the place of God.


Paul shows us that we combat false teaching with the truth of Scripture.  Whatever they say is not good, we must  show them from the Scripture   what God has said.  Therefore, listen to God, and  not to these false teachers–however persuasive they may be in their speech. Go back  to the biblical foundations  in Genesis  and stay there !
In v.5   Paul  encourages  us that  we are to use  everything  rightfully, according to the word of God and  with prayer. All  that God has made  is good  and useful if consecrated by the word of God and prayer. Listen to what he says: “...for it is made holy ( sanctified) by means of the word of God and prayer.”  

Paul wants us to watch out for false members, for false teachers, and for false teaching. And he wants us to resist that teaching by  holding on  to  the truth of the word of God, and to use God's  good gifts with thanksgiving and prayer .  That is the simple lesson that Paul is teaching us today.  
Amen !

Sunday, August 7, 2016

1 Timothy 3:14-16 “The Mystery of Godliness”

In the first three chapters of  Paul’s first letter to Timothy we have  seen Paul counselling Timothy, pastor of the church at Ephesus,   on  a number of  church related matters. They have an amazingly contemporary ring about them.  He counsels Timothy  on how he ought to deal  with false teaching in the church (1:3-7); he addresses   the role of the law (1:8—11), and  the gospel  (1:12-17). He  makes mention  of  the spiritual war in which every gospel minister and gospel church is involved  (1:18—0);  He reflects on the importance of prayer (2: 1-8) and  the role relationship between men and women in the local church (2: 8-15). In the 3rd chapter   Paul  deals with the matter of church leadership as it relates to the roles of elders (3:1-7) and  deacons (3: 8 -13). There’s a lot  which  Paul  says here.

Now as we come  to verses  14-16, Paul  pauses , and he tells  Timothy that he intends to  come back to  him at Ephesus from Macedonia (3:14; 4:13), presumably    to  be of further help  and  assistance to     Timothy in the difficult work of the church there. He says:  [14] “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that,…”.  In the nature of things, and  in  terms of   circumstances and  travel time,  such commitments are not always easy to keep,  and so he tells  Timothy … [15] if I delay, I want you to know these two things :  
(i)  understand  the true  nature  of   the church 
(ii) understand the  true  nature  of the  great Saviour  of  the church  


…(that)  you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. Paul uses  3  descriptions  to  describe  the nature of the church:

(i)              The  church is the household  (Gr. oikō Theou[1]) of God.  Paul often uses building metaphors for the church. In Ephesians 2, he calls  the church  “a temple not made with hands.” Peter  calls the individual members of the church “living stones  that are being built up as a spiritual house…” (1 Pet. 2:5)  We become members of God’s household   through the new birth. In this process, God becomes our Father[2] , Christ our Lord and   brother, and  every member of God’s  households are also called  brothers and sisters  in Christ.

(ii)                the church of the living God (Gr. ekklēsia Theou zōntos). “ We are the temple of the living  God”(2 Cor. 6:16).   “In Him you also  are  being built together  into a dwelling place  (i.e. a tabernacle) for God by the Spirit.” (Eph. 2:22) God is often called the living God in the OT, to make a deliberate contrast  with  the heathen, lifeless idols, who were created by the minds and hands of their worshippers.  Paul can  thus say of the Thessalonian Christians who had been converted  from such  pagan superstition   that  they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” (1Thess. 1:9).  The fact that  it is the  household of God,  and the church of  the living God, which indicates that  the church is  not ours, it's God's.  God's house, God’s church  belongs to God. And in God’s house we ought  to  behave according to God’s rules, and not in any way we please. Many issues that Timothy faces  in Ephesus  are  due to the  fact that various  people wanted to teach and organise the church  according to their own rules and  doctrines.  Has it ever occurred to you,  in thinking about the  design of the OT tabernacle /temple, that God never asked Moses for his own architectural  ideas and opinions?  God  gave Moses the entire  plan. He said to Moses: Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.”  (Ex. 25:9).  Similarly, the church,  the  household  of God, which He  purchased  with His own blood is  not  a “do-as-you- please”  institution.  The church exists  by the Word of God.  So many of the problems in the local churches all over the world would be solved if  we  would understand  that  we are God's house and subject to God’s rules! In God’s house there shall,  according to apostolic  practise,  regular  attention  be given to the apostles doctrine, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and  to prayer (Acts 2:42). 7th day congregational   worship  remains in place[3]. Love[4] and unity[5]  must  remain central to  the church’s  being  and activity.  

The church of  the living God will be  exhibited in its purest form in heaven, and the writer to the Hebrews calls her  “the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven… the spirits of the righteous made perfect…”  (Hebr.12:23) How  awesome  is  the dwelling place of the living God of heaven and earth. That is the  church  which you are called to belong to!

(iii)             a pillar and buttress of the truth. (Gr. stulos  kai hedraiōma tēs alētheias). The stulos is a pillar or a column  which supports a platform  above, and the supports the pillar below. This kind of imagery must have spoken to Timothy, pastor of the church at  Ephesus, where  one of the 7 wonders of the world was found, the temple of Diana , otherwise known as the temple of Artemis.   It was  a massive construction  with  127 pillars, supporting the marble  roof structure.  Each of these  18 meter high  pillars were made of  marble,  and  decorated with  jewels and  gold.   This temple made a massive impression upon all who saw it. The stones  of the  temple in Jerusalem had  a similar effect [6]. The application is, I trust, apparent.  The church has received  a massive   foundation of truth, for all to see,  given by  the Tri-une God   to  the prophets of the OT and  to the apostles  of the NT, all sealed by the appearance  of  God’s supreme  and final  revelation of Himself in  the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebr. 1:1-3). The church itself is not the originator of the truth. The originator is God.  But  God has deposited the truth in His church by means of His Word. The church  thus serves as the pillar and support of the truth in the world.  The less the church does this in the world, the less the world sees of God’s  truth. She is  God's essential vehicle for the gospel  and for discipleship  and also for  the defense of the faith. We ought to be very concerned for the current  lack of truth  in the world.

In summary, we  need to  appreciate afresh the  weighty significance of the church. Unfortunately by  focussing  on matters that are not essential to  biblical church life, the church  in history has often  been reduced to a  petty minded group of self- absorbed men and women,  from whose lips and  lives  the massive truth of God in Christ  could  not be  seen or heard. I say it again :  The church is built on massive truth. She exists  for the glory of the massive,  infinite God, “who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Tim 6:16). Brothers and sisters, may  the Holy Spirit help you to see the church as  God, the Lord Jesus, and the Holy Spirit  sees  her, and may your  thoughts concerning her  never be little again, as you make sure that  you continue to build  on the  foundations of the apostles  and the prophets, with Jesus Himself as the Corner Stone (Eph.  2:20)  


This verse  gets to the heart of the church’s  reason of existence, and  therefore her ministry.  [16] “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.

The mystery of godliness referred to here is clearly  the Lord Jesus.  He is the mysterious  power  of the Christian life and of the Christian  church.  We have already seen that the religious  life in Ephesus was overshadowed  by the worship of Diana (Artemis). According to  the account in Acts 19:21-41, Paul had  a hard time  after he preached  the gospel  there, when  many  turned  from this gross idolatry  to  Christ.  A man named Demetrius in particular  stirred up trouble for Paul, because he knew that the power of Paul’s preaching was threatening the cult  and the associated commerce of Artemis.   Demetris  cried out,   “Great is  Artemis of the Ephesians!”  (Acts 19:28).  Paul  by contrast says,   “Great is the mystery of godliness – Great is Jesus Christ!” 
The truth is that Diana and all the idols of the world cannot stand before  our infinite, eternal, almighty King Jesus, just as little as the material   Philistine  god, Dagon,  could stand before the  captured  ark of  God. (1 Samuel 5

SO WHO IS JESUS?  6 things …

(i)He was manifested in the flesh. Though he pre-existed as God eternally with the Father, He came into this world, and though His deity was veiled, yet He was revealed in His humiliation  as the very Son of God.
(ii)  vindicated by the Spirit. At various stages  in Christ’s ministry  in his supernatural birth , his baptism and commission , in his resurrection the Holy Spirit bore testimony  to Christ.
(iii)seen by angels. Angels surrounded  Christ at his birth  and in his death, being seen by angels at the tomb on the day of His resurrection. Angels were present  when He ascended to heaven.
(iv) proclaimed among the nations.  The gospel of Christ  has gone throughout the world, even more so today , than then.
(v)believed on in the world.  Jesus is  not only preached in all the nations, He's believed on in all the nations. There are people from every tribe and tongue, and land and nation, who are resting and trusting in Him.
(vi) taken up in glory. This refers to His ascension

In these 6  short  statements  Paul  outlines  the massive person and ministry of Jesus.  The existence and  the glory of the church  rests on His person. We tend to forget that. Very often we are taken in by  lesser glories- such as Diana temples. We are easily  impressed   by lesser glories. Our modern temples  are  the  ever bigger and better shopping malls, sports stadiums, sports events and entertainment  centres. These  are  the new cathedrals of the world. These  and the services  and goods and entertainment  they sell keep us captivated  and interested, and  such idol business is booming  like in Ephesus.   Many are kept busy  in commercial  trade on this Lord’s  day.  The heart of our people lies exposed.
May God grant us to know how to behave in the household of God, the church of the Living God, the pillar  and buttress  of the truth.  A church built on this massive foundation will deal with false teaching by showing the superior  excellence of God’s truth. A church like  this will know how  to preach  the gospel, and she will  be able to manifest  a true balance between law and gospel. A church like this prays for her  city and nation . A church like this  has a  biblical view of the role of men and women. A church like this will choose her church officers according to godly standards ….all this, because the church knows the mystery of godliness – Jesus, her Lord ! Amen

[1] see this word oikos  used also in  vv.  4,5, 12
[2] 1 Tim 1:2
[3] the early and subsequent Christian church  preferred  to worship on Sunday, the  day of Christ’s resurrection,  the  first day of the week.        
[4] Jn 13:35 ; 1 Jn 3:11
[5] Eph 4:1-6
[6] Matt 24:1-2; Luke 21:5-6